Incarnating the Holy, living for God

I have a beautifully crafted Bible with more than 200 images made from woodcuts by the artist Barry Moser. I have spent many an hour meditating on these illustrations. One of my absolute favorites is a full-page image of the biblical passage of the Annunciation in which Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and is told that she will bear a son, Jesus, and that this son is of God, is holy, and will be a great leader of his people.

As far as I can remember, all of the images I’ve ever seen that depict this event show Mary as overjoyed and excited, thrilled about receiving this news. Think about it for a moment. How is she going to explain her pregnancy to her family, friends and neighbors? It must have been life-changing news for Mary, a young Jewish girl, to discover that she was pregnant. What would people have thought and said? How some must have taunted her and judged her. I’m sure it was a difficult time in her life. Even if she believed that her child was of God and that she was visited by an angel, who would have believed her? She might have risked being stoned for uttering such blasphemy.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve gotten news that will turn my life upside down, being overjoyed and excited are usually not my first reactions. Anxious, skeptical, even scared and angry might be more like it. That’s why I so like the image that Barry Moser has created of the Annunciation. It portrays, in my opinion, a more human, a more realistic, a more vulnerable Mary. She is portrayed sitting in a corner, kind of crouched, looking up toward this light where the angel might be. She has this look on her face that is a combination of fear, apprehension, confusion, and acceptance. As she looks toward this light, I can see an inner strength in her eyes and on her face. From this image, I know that she is going to bravely accept this challenge she has been given. You know that she will give life to the Holy within her.

And what about us? Isn’t this also our task, and our challenge, this Christmas, and always? Isn’t every child who is born a holy child, a child of God? Isn’t it our responsibility to give birth, to give life to the holy within each of us? It’s right there. We each embody something of God, something of the sacred, something of the creative Spirit, and something of the best that we can be. And it is always waiting to be born. Every moment of our lives is pregnant with possibility and we have the choice to live out our best principles and highest ideals, or not. We have a choice to make God known in the world, or not. And sometimes we might need some sort of angel to come and wake us from our deadened lives and say, “Hey, God loves you, wake up, make of your life something special and great. You have it within you. You can do it!”

The word incarnation comes from a Latin root meaning “made flesh.” Great religious teachers have always known that human beings have potential that we have never incarnated, that we have never lived up to. The message here is not for us to see ourselves as divine beings. We should never think and act from a place of such arrogance and entitlement.

My hope this Christmas is that we see our lifelong responsibility being one of giving birth to all that is holy and good. It is our call and our duty to bring forth into this world thoughts and actions that speak to our deepest principles and highest ideals. And, likewise, it is our responsibility to see the goodness in each other and in everyone we meet.

How might our world be different today if we spoke and acted as if we were living for God, living our best selves? How might we be more loving and respectful of each other if we could see God, see goodness and holiness in each other? The Bible tells us that on the night of Jesus’s birth the angels sang a wish for peace. It’s a great wish, but it is a wish that is ours to accomplish. No angels will come down and do it for us. If we begin to live as if our lives, and all life, mattered, if we incarnate the goodness and holiness that is within us, if we are able to see those qualities in each other, then perhaps we might actually be able realize this wish for peace.

Then it would truly be a Merry Christmas and a time of peace and prosperity for all. May we all be filled with love’s blessings this holy season.

Rev. Arthur Lavoie is Minister at the First Parish Church in Dorchester.